Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Q&A: Penn State RB coach Charles London
By Brian Bennett
Charles London doesn't have any connections to Penn State except for admiring the program from afar and having worked for former Nittany Lions player Mike Munchak on the Tennessee Titans. But now he's on new coach Bill O'Brien's staff as running backs coach, representing a new way of doing things in State College. London played and later coached at Duke and then went on to work in the NFL, serving as an offensive assistant and quality control coach for the Titans. He's young and smart (he has a master's degree from Duke), and he recently visited with ESPN.com to talk about why he came to Penn State.
You got to know coach O'Brien while both of you guys were at Duke. How would you describe him as a coach?
Charles London: He's a very passionate guy. He's very smart. He knows offensive football and how to relate to players. He's just very passionate about what he does and really has the ability to get the most out of his players.
You've spent the past couple of years in the NFL. Was your goal to coach in the pros, or were you just looking to break into coaching wherever possible?
CL: Originally, I just wanted to get into coaching, so I started my career as a graduate assistant in 2004. It took me to college and the pros. I spent the last few years in the NFL. But I just wanted to coach. When Coach O'Brien got this job and offered me a position on the staff, it was an opportunity I couldn't turn down. I knew he'd be a good coach, and with Penn State being such a special place, I knew it was a great opportunity.
What types of things did you learn from your time in the NFL?
CL: I just had the opportunity to work with two really good head coaches in Lovie Smith and Mike Munchak. I learned a lot about X's and O's, but I also learned how to relate to people, how to get the best out of players. I think it was a great experience for my growth as a coach.
Was there any hesitation about coming to Penn State given the controversy surrounding the program?
CL: No, there was no hesitation at all. Once you step on campus, you see what kind of special place this is. The administration has been great and everybody has been really supportive as we've gone out hitting the recruiting trail. So there was no hesitation on my part.
What was it like trying to recruit this class with so little time?
CL: Well, you know, it was a challenge. But Larry Johnson, Ron Vanderlinden and Bill Kavanaugh who were on our staff here did a great job of maintaining relationships with the kids while we were in transition, so when the new staff came in we just had to pick up the ball where they left off. We just tried to maintain relationships and hold onto the guys who were committed to us and pick up a few new commits as well.
Were you just basically introducing yourself to recruits at that point?
CL: Exactly. One of the first things we had was a recruiting weekend as soon as we got there. We had a short period of time to let the families feel comfortable with us. A mom or dad sends their son to us for four or five years, so they need to feel comfortable with us. So it was just building relationships with them and conveying our message about where the future of Penn State football is headed.
How difficult was it without coach O'Brien around very much?
CL: He's done a good job of splitting his time between the Patriots and Penn State. It was actually really good for us in recruiting. He could have been around all the time, but the kids were very excited about what he was doing. They could turn on the TV on Sunday and say, "That's going to be my head coach in a few weeks." They understood why he couldn't be around in recruiting.
Having been around him, what do you think the offense will look like at Penn State?
CL: I think it will be multiple. It will be a game-plan offense. We'll take advantage of what the defense gives us. If we've got to throw it 40 times to win, we'll do it. If we've got to run it 40 times, we'll do it as well. We'll have to sit down a little further and evaluate our team and our players and what part of the scheme fits them best, and we'll take it from there.
I know you haven't gotten to know the players that much yet, but what are your initial thoughts about Silas Redd?
CL: Extreme quickness. He has great feet, really good vision, does a good job once he gets in the hole. A really explosive first step and he does a lot of things well. I'm really looking forward to working with him.
How much did you know about Penn State before this? Did you watch the Nittany Lions much growing up?
CL: I've always watched them from afar just because of the tradition that was there. I had the pleasure of working for a Penn State alum for the last year or so, and I just knew from talking to him and from the way he carried himself and how he transformed the Tennessee Titans that it was a good place. And that the ideals that they shared at Penn State were similar to my beliefs. So I just knew it would be a good fit.
How did Mike Munchack react when you took this job, especially since he was reported as a head-coaching candidate for a while?
CL: He was very excited. I left with his blessing, and we had a good conversation before I left. He was excited for me and I'm sure he'll be up to a game sometime. Now he has somebody to hold accountable.
How much of a responsibility do you feel as a new staff to be transparent and help bring people back into the fold after all that has happened here, even though you weren't in any way a part of it?
CL: We just want to uphold the tradition of Penn State football. We've been telling people we want to restore the roar here. We're going to do things here with the highest integrity, athletically and academically, and I think people will be proud of the product they see on and off the field.
Where will your recruiting areas be?
CL: We're still figuring some of that out right now. Each coach will have a piece of Pennsylvania. We'll definitely hit Pennsylvania hard and some of the mid-Atlantic states. But also with some of the experiences and relationships we have, we might hit some areas that maybe Penn State hasn't recruited heavily in the past, like North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, those areas. Maybe hit Texas. We'll definitely be aggressive in recruiting.
Finally, just looking around at the facilities, the fan support, what do you feel like is the potential for this program going forward?
CL: I think the sky's the limit for this program.We're going to go out and try to identify the top student-athlete prospects around the country and go after them the best we can. We're going to run a pro-style offense and a really attacking defense. It's going to be a really good place to be, so we're excited about the future.